The Commuter Challenge

2 July 2013

The July 2013 Challenge

by CC @ 23:59

The July 2013 Commuter Challenge is to write one or more poems related to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and/or “Through the Looking-Glass”. Write a poem in any format about one or more of the characters or themes. Try to focus on the less ‘famous’ characters and/or less obvious themes from the books.

If you prefer extra constraints, pick format and character combinations at random from the lists below:

  • Formats: Sonnet, Ottava Rima, Rubaiyat, Triolet, Double Dactyl, Lento.
  • Characters: Mock Turtle, Dodo, Duchess’s Cook, White Knight, Knave of Hearts, Humpty Dumpty.

(If you choose the random format/character route, please say so in your submission.)

The Results

Brian Raiter

The Dormouse’s Response

Do not believe of everything you’ve read.
Our tea-time parties really are sedate:
Red wine and buttered bread — a lovely spread,
All served with friendly banter and debate.
I fear she tended to exaggerate:
Before hyperbole, truth always pales.
Her version of events is now widespread —
Too late for me to quibble with details.
But still, in sum, her accuracy prevails.
That’s more than I can say for others’ tales.
So, let me take this chance to plainly state:
Of all the muddled things that I have said,
I never once have uttered “Feed your head.”
I just wish to set the record straight.

The Pigeon’s Lament

O how do you slip through the trees without legs,
Surveying so much and so much?
O fat-headed serpent searching for eggs,
How do you slip through the trees without legs,
When my nest is as high as the sky’s cloudy dregs
And shivers at slightest of touch?
O how do you slip through the trees without legs,
Surveying so much and so much?
Ryan Finholm

Humpty Dumpty — Ottava Rima

When Humpty Dumpty first encountered her,
Our Alice got a moody admonition,
Soon followed by an insult. We infer
That Dumpty had a rotten disposition:
Standoffish, like the tea partiers were,
And blind to his precarious position.
It’s hard to reconcile how they forgot
He’d started as an egg that she had bought.

Mock Turtle — Double Dactyl

Frumious, gloomious,
Wonderland’s Mock Turtle
Weeps with nostalgia and
Recalls old times:
Lessons, and washing, plus
Dances with shellfish and
Singing and rhymes.

Duchess’s Cook — Double Dactyl

Bandersnatch, snicker-snack,
Duchess’s kitchenmaid,
Tested the limits of
Pepper in stew,
Tested the pots and pans’
Toughness, and tested their
Properties too.

Duchess’s Cook — Sonnet

The soup was for the Duchess, child, and frog,
But no amount of pepper would suffice.
Her grinder ground, and spun a pepper fog —
A camouflage of heady, acrid spice
Which made the baby sneeze, and cough, and gag,
And yet the cook still paid a greater price:
The work was hard, the Duchess was a nag,
The hours, the noise… it really wasn’t fair.
To be compelled to serve that awful hag
Could make one want to hurl some kitchenware.
And while I tried to analyze the cook,
Our Alice fled the house to get some air,
Absconding with a piglet she mistook
For that small child the Duchess beat and shook.
Lisa Paul

The Dove, or The girl whose throat was called serpent

Chirp roughly at a giant snake,
and beat her with your wings:
She’ll say it is a grave mistake
You must ignore her if she sings.
Oh! Oh! Oh!
I chirped severely at the snake,
I beat her with my wings;
No matter were she maid or cake
or a cabbage or a king.


Reptilian Hufflepuff
Gardener’s assistant to Pat
Tied two
Ladders together
And knocked down a piece of the roof
Reptilian mountaineer
climbed down into the flue
The last thing he heard was a chorus of “There goes Bill!” until he woke under the hedge.
Reptilian Juryman
Needs no pencil or ink
To snack on tarts
before felony cases
The slate is only for show
Witness material
Hadn’t had plans to confess
The Queen threw her ink
And the single word “Never”
seemed to write itself over his face.


  1. The subject matter of this Commuter Challenge was straight up my alley. (True story: in college I once committed the entire text of both Alice books to memory on a dare.) I feel bad for not submitting more entries this month, but the time got away from me.

    There are so many little vignettes and details that have become attached to the Alice stories over the years that have no origin in the original books. I imagine that the characters would be a bit testy about such misinformation tarnishing their reputation, were they to learn of them. Thus, the Dormouse’s sonnet.

    The second poem is a triolet, and is almost more of a spoof than a serious entry. It borrows its phrasing from Frances Cornford’s “To a Fat Lady Seen from the Train”. (This was probably not her most well-known poem in her lifetime, but it may be now just because of people using it as an example of the triolet form. Well, that and because of Chesterton’s response poem.) But I really wanted to have an entry for a properly obscure character, since the Dormouse is only just barely a minor character. I figured the pigeon would answer well, and I was quite surprised to find that I wasn’t the only one who chose it (And not only that, but the other entry is pretty awesome. Yay for the Pigeon!)

    by Brian — 2 August 2013 @ 14:13

  2. I took a number of long plane trips this month, so I had plenty of commuter time to work on this challenge. Early in the month I picked up a reader copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and re-read them front to back to re-familiarize myself. After reading the books (and while reading them), I jotted down a bunch of ideas, notes, and a few couplets on the various characters. And then I pretty much forgot about the whole thing until Andrei reminded me around 9:30pm on the 31st. I had already completed around 80% of the sonnet, but the rest were just random lines. Thank goodness for all of those notes though, or I would have been flailing during those last hours. If I’d gotten down to doing the substantive work earlier I probably would have done more, and maybe better, poems.

    I got the idea for this challenge after reading the sonnet “The Door” by W. H. Auden. I thought it might be fun to explore similar territory. My poems did not successfully achieve the feel that “The Door” has, but I’m happy enough with them anyway.

    I looked into doing random format/character combinations, and, noting that I’d chosen 6 formats and 6 characters, I rolled a 6-sided die 12 times to get six pairs of two numbers 1-6. Strictly following the order in which they were rolled (first roll = format, second roll = character) and the order listed in the CC announcement, I ended up with combinations that included three of those accursed Lentos, and on the character side I got the White Knight and Dodo twice each. I had never written a Lento before, and decided I didn’t want to stumble through my first on a 150-minute deadline, so none of my submission combinations were random.

    by RyanF — 2 August 2013 @ 15:34

  3. 1st Entry:
    Hurray, pigeons! This entry is based on the Duchess’s song (which, like most of the poems in “Alice”, is a parody of something I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader). The last line refers to “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. The title refers to the discussion of the nomenclature of “Haddocks’ Eyes”. Both are from “Looking Glass”.

    2nd Entry:
    I decided on Bill at the start of the month, and very briefly considered a comparison to Krazy Kat (because of the blow he receives from Alice). Looking for formats (i.e. surfing Wikipedia), I considered the hudibrastic early on, but set it all aside as too difficult. Much later in the month, I stole the rhythm of Milne’s “Disobedience” (I have no idea if this meter is based on anything or has a name.). As for content, I tried to stick to the original Carroll for Bill’s character. Then I went and blamed him for the tarts. (To answer Ryan’s emailed question about this one: ‘blank verse’ is the iambic one, and although ‘free verse’ is usually unmetered, this seems to fall under free verse.)

    Maybe I’d have titled this if I hadn’t started this on the 30th or 31st. I definitely would have done more possible-rhyme juggling. Though, I like the dark turn it took, so maybe rhymeless is better. Line breaks for the current last line of the 2nd stanza should probably be: {he/heard, was/a, “…Bill!”/until}, but it’s too late for revision now.

    by Lisa — 5 August 2013 @ 14:34